The UK risks becoming a “failed state” without far-reaching government reforms, former prime minister Gordon Brown said on Monday, as calls mounted for a new vote on Scottish independence.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph on Burns Night – the annual celebration of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns – Mr Brown, himself a Scot, said the potential break-up of the union was real.
“The status quo is not working and the world’s most successful experiment in multinational living is under greater threat than at any time in 300 years,” Mr Brown said.
“I believe the choice is now between a reformed state and a failed state.”
Mr Brown was finance minister for Tony Blair, under whom powers were devolved to governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1999.
The three UK countries now have powers to set policy in areas such as health, education, transport and environment.
In 2002, Mr Blair’s government proposed bringing in elected regional assemblies for England with similar powers, but the plan was rejected.
The UK government in London is responsible for England while also retaining nationwide control over issues such as defence, foreign policy, international trade and immigration.
Mr Brown called on current Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set up a commission to review the situation once the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.
“For too long we have left unstated the shared purpose and values that bind the UK together,” he said.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken different approaches to tackling the coronavirus, and elected regional mayors in England rowed with the government in London.
Mr Brown said “months of Covid – bitter disputes between No 10 [Downing Street] and the regions and nations brought to the surface tensions and grievances that have been simmering for years”.
His comments come as the appetite for independence from London appears to be growing, not only in Scotland but also in Wales and Northern Ireland.
A Sunday Times poll suggested 50 per cent of Scottish voters want another referendum in the next five years and 49 per cent would vote for independence, while 44 per cent would reject it.
In the referendum in 2014, 55 per cent voted “no”.
The same poll found that 42 per cent of voters in Northern Ireland were now in favour of uniting with the Republic of Ireland.
With 47 per cent of those polled wishing to remain in the UK, a significant 11 per cent remained undecided.
In Wales, where the drive for independence has been less politically mainstream in the past, 23 per cent said they backed leaving the union and 31 per cent said they supported a referendum.
On Sunday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised to hold a referendum on independence despite Mr Johnson’s repeated resistance.